If you think that waste management in the UK is one of the biggest challenges we face, then taking a look at the Great Pacific Trash Vortex might give you some perspective on the matter. Billions of bottles and other rubbish are discarded into the sea every year and it’s beginning to cause a major ecological and environmental problem, particularly in the North Pacific.
What is the Great Pacific Trash Vortex?
In the North Pacific Ocean there is an island of waste made up mainly of plastics and marine sludge of different kinds, mostly man made. The vortex stretches from the North American coast right to Japan and is created by the currents and differences in water temperature that create roadways for floating garbage to travel on. Ocean gyres are the important thing here, making it possible for the creation of this huge waste tip – circular currents of water that bring rubbish together in one, central spot.
There are four such currents that create the Great Pacific Vortex which cover an area of about 7.7 million square miles. The circular motion draws rubbish towards its centre where conditions are relatively calm and the rubbish can settle. Because the material that collects here is not biodegradable it basically collects in one place and there are bottles from decades ago that were thrown onto a beach somewhere in a place like California. Over two thirds of the trash has sunk below the surface causing damage to marine life in the area, frightening when you consider that a plastic bottle can take up to 6 years to travel to the vortex.
What’s Being Done About it?
Unfortunately, very little. Because it is so far from the coastline, surrounding countries are not taking responsibility for it. The cost of dealing with hundreds of miles of waste is also an issue. Most of the work is being done on ensuring that it actually doesn’t get any bigger, which isn’t much use to the marine life that lives around the vortex. Unfortunately, while it might seem like a simple job to clear up those bottles, it’s a lot more difficult than it first sounds. Recent filming showed that there are areas where large islands, some 15 metres high, have grown up.
Why Waste Management Matters
While it’s an extreme example, the Pacific Trash Vortex is a key example of how our waste disposal can damage the world around us if it isn’t brought under control. Effective waste management isn’t just about finding somewhere safe to stick our rubbish. Nowadays it’s about reducing the amount of waste that we produce in the first place as well as recycling the stuff that we can’t reuse or repurpose.
We all have a duty of care to make sure that we dispose of our waste in the appropriate way. Commercial and industrial concerns have a legal obligation to make sure they do this and domestic properties are served by a local council. But we all have an obligation to make sure that we don’t throw our garbage out of the windows of our cars or onto the beach to be washed away by the sea. It only takes a moment to put a bottle in the waste bin or simply take it home and dispose of it properly.
Next time you feel like tossing your waste onto the floor, think about the Great Pacific Trash Vortex and the damage such man made catastrophes are causing to the world we live in.